SAM RYAN: Welcome to the presentation of the 2015 Hank Aaron Award. I am Sam Ryan from MLB Network. This award recognizes the most outstanding offensive performance in each league, the National League and American League. The winners, just so you know, they're selected through a combination of fan vote on MLB.com, and a panel of Hall of Famers, led by the award's namesake, Mr. Hank Aaron, along with Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount. So a lot of thought goes into this.
First, we're going to meet the dais. One of the greatest players of all time, right here, Hank Aaron, everybody (applause).
In the center, Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred (applause).
And Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays (applause).
I'd also like to acknowledge Billye Aaron, the wife of Hank Aaron Award, she's seated in the front row (applause).
Also Josh's mom, Lisa, is here today (applause).
Right now I'll turn it over to the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred.
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Thank you, Sam.
This is the 17th year that we have had the Hank Aaron Awards. And it's a really important award from the perspective of Major League Baseball, because it honors the legacy of one of our greatest players, maybe our greatest player of all time.
I had a wonderful experience this past week in Kansas City: I visited the Negro Leagues Museum for the first time, and I was reminded that not only was Henry a great, great player, but he played our game during a period when the game went through tremendous change. And it was really poignant for me to look back at the pictures of a young Henry Aaron.
I learned a lot during my visit to that museum and I also learned that before he was "Hammerin' Hank", he had another nickname. And I'm only going to do this if I have your permission, so you've got to tell me whether I can do it or not.
HANK AARON: Go ahead (Laughing).
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Before he was "Hammerin' Hank", he had the nickname of "Pork Chops" (laughter). And I think that's a great nickname.
HANK AARON: Yeah, it was (laughing).
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: All kidding aside. I want to thank Hank for being here, for supporting this program year in and year out. I also want to thank Billye Aaron for being here with us. It's always a pleasure to have you. I want to thank the Hall of Famers who vote for this award, and make it so meaningful for the players that actually win it.
This year's winner of the National League is Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. Bryce had an unbelievable year at just 22 years of age. He hit .330, he had 172 hits, 42 home runs, 99 RBIs and he scored 118 runs. He led the Major Leagues in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Unfortunately Bryce couldn't be here with us tonight. But let's give him a round of applause anyways (applause).
The American League winner sits to my right, Josh Donaldson. Josh led the Toronto Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. And I think was almost responsible in a big part for a revival of baseball in Toronto that's really great for our game. He had career highs in nearly all offensive categories. He led the American League in RBIs and in extra-base hits. He was second in slugging and third in home runs. But my favorite stat, he had 20 game-winning RBIs. That's some year. Josh, congratulations to you (applause).
SAM RYAN: Congratulations to Bryce and Josh. And of course, we're privileged to be joined by Mr. Hank Aaron, and I'd like to invite Mr. Hank Aaron to say a few words.
HANK AARON: Thank you very much. First, when the Commissioner was talking about the nickname, I just want to say when you're making $200 a month, Commissioner, you can't buy anything but pork chops (laughter). And I was just glad to have that, really.
I, too, would like to congratulate and thank all of the Hall of Famers who voted for this award. This is something that is very dear to me, and Commissioner, I am thrilled that you're here this afternoon to keep this up, as Commissioner Selig did many years ago. I'm just so happy because this means an awful lot. When you see young players like this.
This young man here, I didn't know, was from Alabama. I think you're from Alabama. I know his mother is from Pensacola, Florida, and that's 69 miles from Mobile. And that's his mother there. And he has done everything that I think that all of us in this room and especially baseball players dream about, the kind of year he had. And I just want to congratulate him, really, for all the things that he does.
This is the kind of player that you dream about. We talk about young players coming into our league, and here's one right here. I mean, he's demonstrated what baseball is all about, and I want to congratulate him and I also want to congratulate his mother. She knows a little bit about baseball, and she kept him on tune. But thank you so very much. Josh, I just want to say that just let this be not the one year, but next year let's do it again, all right? Congratulations.
JOSH DONALDSON: Thank you (applause).
SAM RYAN: Thank you, Mr. Aaron. Now as the Commissioner mentioned, Bryce Harper could not be with us today, but he did send along a short video to express his gratitude for being named the NL recipient of the award.
BRYCE HARPER (via video): Thank you to the fans, the Hall of Fame panel, and especially Mr. Aaron for voting for me. It is a great honor to receive the prestigious Hank Aaron Award.
Mr. Aaron is an icon not only in baseball but in American history. It is a privilege to be associated with Mr. Aaron and all the great players that have previously won this award. Thank you to my teammates, the Nationals organization and my friends and family for all their support. I'd also like to congratulate American League winner, Josh Donaldson.
Again, I am deeply honored and pleased to accept this award. Thank you.
SAM RYAN: And here with us today is Josh Donaldson, the AL winner, the recipient of the Hank Aaron Award.
Josh, I know you just heard the comments from Mr. Aaron. You had time to speak with him back in private earlier. Any comments you have on winning this award?
JOSH DONALDSON: I feel very fortunate and blessed to be in this situation today. Not just being a baseball player, but I've been a baseball fan my entire life. To be able to sit here and sit beside Hank Aaron, just what he's meant to the game, it's a real honor. And you don't really think as a kid, you don't really think you would get to experience moments like this. And it's definitely something I'm very grateful for.
As Bryce said earlier, I wouldn't be here without my teammates and the support from my friends and family, and just the organization in whole. The fan base was incredible for me this year, really showed their support throughout the entire season for us. We really believe that we're on the right track to bigger and better things, and hopefully this is the first step. I'm very honored to win the Hank Aaron Award. It means a lot to me (applause).
SAM RYAN: We are going to open up to a few questions.
Q. Hank, I'd like to ask you your thoughts right now on the state of baseball. I know it's a sport you love. You've given much of your life to it. What do you think the state of baseball is right now? Do you think it's in good shape? Do you think the fans around the country appreciate this sport as they have in the past?
HANK AARON: I think they have. If you look at this one particular award, there are over a million fans that voted for this. And so it is -- it's beginning to make people realize that baseball is No. 1 and always will be. So I kind of feel like it is. That's my thought.
Q. Hank, before the game both Terry Collins and Ned Yost were talking about how pitching inside is a lot more unacceptable in the game today than it was years ago. Would pitching inside, a pitch like the one that began the game last night, have caused a ruckus in your era in the '60s and '70s? And is it good or bad that it's changed?
HANK AARON: I'm sitting here this afternoon with one that -- I think Frank led the league in hits batsman for two or three years. You kind of respect pitchers. I played against pitchers against Don Drysdale and pitchers like Stan Williams. And Stan Williams, I often tell the story, Stan Williams had me three balls and no strikes, and I had the take sign; I had the bat on my shoulder. And he hit me in the head with a fastball, three balls and no strikes. And I get to first base, and then he tried to pick me off first base and hit me in the kneecap. And then Gil Hodges who was playing first base at the time, touched me like this, and said, "Why don't you go over there and pinch his damn head off, big boy." I said, "My mama didn't raise any fools." So I kind of left that alone.
But to answer your question, I think pitching inside, you kind of respect pitchers that do that, really. I don't know, you have to talk to Josh about this, because I don't face pitchers, I don't know what they do. From my standpoint every ball is outside, but he can tell you a little bit more about it than I can. Josh, I'm going to leave that up to you. I haven't faced a live pitcher in 20 years.
JOSH DONALDSON: I can't speak for Hank's time. And I definitely -- I've heard growing up about that era of baseball where you're brushing guys back, and it still happens today. Guys are just throwing so much harder in this era, I feel like everybody is throwing a hundred. Anytime a ball is around your head area, I don't think anybody appreciates that. But that's just the game of baseball. And when things like that happen, you have to be able to regain your focus because it's a battle between pitcher and hitter. This is the highest level. Guys are going to continue to try to get you off kilter when you're hitting.
As a hitter if you get 1-0, your chances go up tremendously as a hitter, or you're allowed to get a ball back into the count. It helps. You have to be able to sometimes look past it.
Q. Congratulations for the award. This was your first year with the Toronto Blue Jays. Can you talk about your biggest challenge for this season and how you were able to conquer this challenge?
JOSH DONALDSON: First, just trying to get to know my teammates, that was the biggest challenge in the beginning. But once I got into Spring Training and got very comfortable with my teammates, that became pretty easy.
The next step was trying to kind of see how my body would get adjusted to the turf, because I never really played consistently on turf that we did. So I felt like with the training staff that we had there we were able to do a pretty good job maintaining my body throughout the course of the year. Really just trying to break down some barriers for this organization that we've had going into it: Not making the playoffs in 22 years, that's a pretty big deal. And we were able to accomplish that this year. And I feel like going into Spring Training next year, we're just going to have more momentum building in the right direction.
Q. Josh, it wasn't too many years ago you were a catcher and converted to third base. Could you talk about your ascent and how hard you've worked to get where you are right now?
JOSH DONALDSON: I was actually talking to Hank about this earlier. 2010 I was able to break into the league as a catcher. Struggled. Was demoted a few times. Had to kind of take a look in the mirror and realize I needed to make adjustments.
Being able to play third base I feel like definitely helped stay in the lineup and kind of keep my body a little bit more healthy throughout the season. But ultimately I think it became to the level that I've been able to accomplish so far, it really took a lot of studying. It took a lot of acknowledgment and self-criticism and really just trying to seek out knowledge that was going to end up bettering me for the future. And today I'm able to be at the position I am today because I've learned not only about myself but a lot from other people.
Q. Congratulations, Josh. I wanted to ask you, you seemed to really enjoy your stay in Oakland. I want to ask what your initial reaction was to the trade? How you feel about it now? And also how did you come up with "BringerOfRain" for your Twitter handle?
JOSH DONALDSON: I enjoyed my time in Oakland. We had a bunch of characters on our team. We were always having fun, as we did in Toronto, as well. But I was very shocked, to say the least, just for the fact of the situation that I'm at as far as service time and that ordeal, and kind of the team that we had put together, winning two division titles and then advancing to the Wild Card. So I was definitely kind of shocked when that came about. But at the end of the day you realize that this is a business and teams are looking out for their organization's best interests. And I don't really control a lot of moves that go on.
To answer your second question, the "BringerOfRain" came from, it was actually a series called "Spartacus: Blood and Sand". And the main character's name, Spartacus, and he becomes a gladiator. To make a long story short, he's fighting this guy, his name is Theokoles. He's a legend in the ring. The story is he's been stabbed a thousand times. I mean, it's crazy (laughter).
To say the least, Spartacus ends up defeating him and killing him, and their country was in a drought at the time. And after he was able to defeat him, the rain had been brought. So he was called Spartacus, "Bringer of Rain". I thought it was pretty neat, so I stole it (laughter).
Q. Sometimes RBI total can be a misleading evaluator for an individual because it's so dependent on the lineup around them. But in your case, what the Commissioner mentioned, so many of yours were of the game-winning variety, is that something you take a lot of pride in?
JOSH DONALDSON: One hundred percent. I had a great bunch of guys around me and behind me. That definitely helps anybody, I feel like. But I think it goes back to what you say about the game-winning RBIs. Ever since I was probably six years old, everything I did was, the game is on the line. I've got a basketball, I'm doing the countdown, three, two, one, doing the shot. Always bases loaded, two outs, ninth inning, that's how I wanted it to be. Football, trying to make the game-winning run. Whatever it was that was just something ever since I was at a very young age, that's kind of where I wanted to be. And fortunately this year I was able to come through for my team. And they were able to also put me in that position to where I was able to come through. Like I said, we had a very special team and I was very fortunate to be a part of that.
Q. We just got news that Alex Anthopoulous left the GM position in Toronto. What do you think of him as an exec, and what is your relationship with him?
JOSH DONALDSON: Alex and I had a great relationship. He was around the clubhouse often, and we definitely spoke very often. You know, always had a positive vibe on things. I felt like especially at the trade deadline he did a great job with our team. I felt like we went from an above-average offense, a team that had to beat you kind of in one way, and he turned our team into a complete team, a complete roster.
Just did a great job of handling the assets, in my opinion. I believe that Alex will land on his feet somewhere and for whatever the reason was, I'm sure he will become better and stronger for this.
SAM RYAN: Thank you, Josh, the AL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award. I'm going to ask Hank Aaron, the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, and Josh, to please stand up for a few photos here. Thank you all for joining us.